Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Birds

A record year for Pufflings in Vestmannaeyjar Islands: More and fatter Pysjas this year

By Staff

  • Puffins These beautiful little birds are currently leaving their burrows for the open waters of the North Atlantic, where they spend the winter. Photo/Heiða

The puffin nesting in Vestmannaeyjar islands, the most important puffin colony in Iceland, seems to have been more successful in 2016 than in previous years.  More puffin chicks, or pysja, as adolescent puffins are called in Icelandic, were recorded in the island this year than any time since 2003 when systematic counts were first performed. The pysja count already tops the entire year 2015, when the previous record was set.

Read more: A puffin chick is called a pysja: the life and adventurers of the adolescent puffin

With several weeks still left before all the puffins have left Vestmananeyjar a total of 3896 Pysjas have been brought in for measuring. Ornithologists are especially excited by the fact that the pysjas are also larger and fatter than in previous years. Erpur Snær Hansen, with the Natural History Institute of South Iceland told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that the better fed pysjas will stand a far better chance of surviving the winter in the cold waters of the North Atlantic: "They have been getting heavier, which is good news because the difference in survival rates for light and heavy pysjas is as great as fivefold."

Erpur pointed out that the "pysja season" is nowehere nearly over. "It's slowing down, but there is alot going on still. I expect the pysja season to extend well into October". Nesting began relatively late, due to a cold spring, but after the birds began nesting they did very well.

The "pysja season"
By fall the pysja leave the burrows, flying out to sea. However, the adolescent birds frequently mistake the lights from towns as the moon and stars reflecting off the sea the pysjas frequently fly into town. The town of Vestmannaeyjar in the Vestmannaeyjar islands and other coastal towns close to puffin colonies see large numbers of confused little puffins wandering the streets or hiding in yards, unsure of how to find their way back to the sea. These unfortunate little pufflings frequently die of exhaustion or hunger or are killed as they are hit by cars or caught by cats.

Read more: 5 Things you need to know about Puffins

The children of Vestmannaeyjar come to the rescue of these wayward pysjas by collecting them each night, keeping them in cardboard boxes overnight and then taking them to the cliffs by the sea the next morning where they are released back into the wild. This ensures the birds have a maximum chance of finding their way out to sea.

Some of the more exhausted pysjas require more care, and the children of Vestmannaeyjar take great pride in nursing these young birds before they are released to the ocean.

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